The lechery, loves and literature of Spanish scribe Jaime Gil de Biedma receive pleasingly offbeat treatment in “The Consul of Sodom,” a biopic that depends on a compelling performance by Jordi Molla. Following its protag from the ’60s until his death from AIDS in 1990, the pic is an intriguing ride through the Barcelona arts scene of 30 years ago, but its bed-to-book-to-boardroom dynamic palls, leaving it short on dramatic clout. Still, this gorgeous-looking, sexually explicit and rarely dull “Consul” has a cultish appeal that could stimulate fest interest. Initial B.O. for the Jan. 8 release was solid but unspectacular.
Steamy early scenes take place in 1959 Manila, where the impeccable, white-jacketed Jaime (Molla), presented as an incorrigible seducer, takes full advantage of the local boys. Back in Barcelona, his father, Don Luis (Juli Mira), is concerned about the impact of Jaime’s lifestyle on the reputation of the family’s tobacco empire, particularly since Franco’s police are on the trail of commie sympathizers. Much is made of the conflict between family duties and fleshly urges, conformity and transgression.
Jaime’s literary cronies are publisher Carlos Barral (Josep Linuesa) and the refreshingly down-to earth Juan Marse (Alex Brendemuhl). Ironically, Jaime is refused membership in the Communist Party because he’s openly gay; he falls in with Bel (newcomer Bimba Bose, sometimes out of her depth), who becomes his muse and lover.
The script does well to bring something unique to each of the multiple relationships it portrays. And the period is portrayed with loving attention to detail, if too often suffused with the warm nostalgia of melodrama. Though the decor is often sumptuous, the focus is always on character rather than setting.
Molla, who has a tendency to overact, plays to his strengths by showing Jaime as a man of devilish aspect who sees his life in theatrical terms. The result is his finest perf in years, growing stronger as the pic proceeds and his character ages. Though the poet is aloof, fastidious, sexually avaricious and often downright unpleasant, Molla never lets us lose sight of his insecurities.
Inevitably for an item about arty types, the dialogue is sometimes of the overwrought “you’re in love with pain” variety. Extracts from the poems are judiciously used to comment on the action, but more time is spent on Jaime’s sex life (with multiple full-frontals) than inside his head.
Pic’s approach has caused a stir in Spain, with the real-life Marse, now a revered novelist, expressing his strong indignation in the national press.